Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

27 Aug 2019

Six transformations for sustainability

Posted by Michael Keating

The Amazon is burning, glaciers and icecaps are melting, people are dying from air pollution and species are being driven to extinction. We must transform how we live, work and play if we are to head off a series of environmental disasters that will make us sicker, poorer and put us in greater danger. In 2015 and 2016 nations agreed on 17 sustainable development goals for the world by 2030. They include ending poverty and hunger, ensuring equity, promoting sustainable consumption and production, and protecting and managing the natural resource base of the planet. Most nations also signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which calls on the world to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to stop the planet from dangerously overheating.

How do we make the huge changes? Six world experts on sustainability,     Jeffrey D. Sachs, Guido Schmidt-Traub, Mariana Mazzucato, Dirk Messner, Nebojsa Nakicenovic and Johan Rockström, have proposed ways. In a paper, Six Transformations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, they call for “deep transformations in every country that will require complementary actions by governments, civil society, science and business.” The paper from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network says the transformations are interlinked and deal with a number of sustainability problems at the same time.

The six transformations are:

  1. Education to build human capital leading to reductions in poverty, inequality and gender discrimination.
  2. Universal health coverage and policies to increase well-being and quality of life.
  3. A shift from fossil fuels to zero carbon energy. They link this to a “circular economy” which keeps materials in use and virtually eliminates pollution.
  4. A move to efficient, resilient food systems that provide healthy diets and good livelihoods for food producers. This also requires protection of biodiversity, including land and marine habitats.
  5. Cleaner, safer cities where everyone has access to potable water and sanitation, and sustainable transportation.
  6. Universal access to the Internet along with a comprehensive set of rules and systems to help people benefit from the digital revolution.

The authors warn that putting such sweeping goals into action will require deep, deliberate, long-term structural changes in resource use, infrastructure, institutions, technologies and social relations over the next few decades. A successful transition to a sustainable world will require long-term planning combined with broad engagement with affected people and compensation for those who will face losses during the changes, such as people in the fossil fuel sector. The speed required and need for major government intervention are unprecedented in modern technological revolutions. They compare it to the 1960s US program to put a human on the moon in less than a decade, something initially seen by many as impossible.

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